"Still I'll rise"
This painting was born of so many scattered, random, pent up emotions after the quarantine of 2020. My parents are elderly, and like everyone, I have friends and family who are vulnerable to the virus.
I believe in times like these we are meant to draw closer to God, to find new understanding in the world around us. For me, this has meant a lot of prayer, but not only the prayer where I ask for protection for my family and friends and guidance, but the kind where I try to also listen. This is harder than it would seem.
I have found walking helps with this kind of prayer, and one day as I was out taking photos of sycamore trees for reference photos, I came across an old convent with a labyrinth on the grounds. It was a quiet spring morning and no one was there, so I decided to see what it was about. The directions said to enter after taking a deep breath, ring the chimes, and follow the path, as you are walking, you can pray. When you get to the center there is a tree where you can kneel and pray. On the way out, you simply quiet yourself and try to hear what God is saying to you. It is a wonderful, cleansing, beautiful way to become quiet enough to pray and be present.
What does this all have to do with my portrait painting? I had been unable to focus my haywire energy and anxieties enough to paint. After that morning at the labrynth, I came home and painted her. And I had no idea what I was doing or if it would turn out to be a study for my trash pile, but soon realized I was painting my response to the strange chaos of quarantine- all the focus was there and it was coming through the brush.
And what came through was clear rebellion and fearlessness. The underlying knowledge that fear, worry, distraction and lack of belief have no place in my life as a child of God. That I can be- when I put my trust in him- free of the constant background noise of the media, free of the constant stress and worries about loved ones. I can regain my focus and have confidence in God, when I give it to him. This is in his control, not mine.
It reminded me of the poem "Still I rise" by Maya Angelou. Of the emotion underneath her words- the rebelliousness, the confidence and faith to move forward, and the inability to tamp down the human spirit in any and all circumstances.
Those attributes are what got many generations before us through worse times than this, and it will get us through as well.
It's a long, incredible poem- you should read it, but today, here, I will put down only a few lines
"Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that's wonderously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
"She wasn't a sunny day type woman.
Often she would brave a thunderstorm to find me
and sit next to me and hold my hand in the rain.
She wasn't just a flame.
She was a bonfire to the soul.
This painting is the second in my "St. Louis women" series, something near and dear to my heart.
This portrait is of my beautiful friend and neighbor, Beth Vacarro, who happens to also be the mother of my son's lifelong best friend.
Beth is one of those rare gifts to the world, a mental health therapist. She daily goes into her office and willingly takes on the problems, complexities, and hardships of others, to help them find their path in this world, or to make it easier, or to help them see themselves in a new way so that they can thrive. She lends an ear and her heart to let people know they are not alone in this world. Always a blessing and help to others, but in this strange time especially, I think of the vital ways she helps our corner of the world navigate their way through anxiety, depression, financial hardships, sickness and loss.
Her life's work is bringing beauty to other's lives by entering their darkness and confusion to work out a map into light and life. The world is so fortunate to have her.
I would be remiss to not mention the impact she has had on my life personally. I know first hand what kind of courageous kindness and generosity of heart Beth has. She has come to my side at the darkest times, and like a lamp someone brought into the room, stayed present with me in my tears and pain, until her warmth overtook the coldness and fear.
And although one would think this sort of individual would be a serious or solemn kind of person, Beth is full of light and life, witty, and a friend to all who know and love her.
Thank you, Beth, for being a friend to me and a light in our community.
Yesterday I took a long walk just to regain some balance in mind and body. I have had trouble focusing my energy and my dogs seemed just as restless as I did, so we took off and found an out of the way, wild area with a thick bank of trees and birds, that I had never seen before. Cardinals were swooping in and out of the branches of shrubs just beginning to show their spring blossoms, and a cobalt sky with complete silence all around us seemed like balm for the soul.
As I looked down to see how my dogs were faring, I noticed what looked like a four leaf clover patch and thought I would find one to take home. We could all use a little luck right now! But looking closer, I found the leaves were too large for clover, but the little patch looked so familiar..... I stepped on it and heard the familiar "crunch" of alfalfa under my shoe.
So let me back up. I grew up behind a huge matrix of fields in Kansas where we spend our childhood days filling jars up with lady bugs, and playing hide and seek and Marco Polo in the shoulder high wheat. Some days we would walk out to the center of the field to find the old, graceful Cottonwood tree with branches that spread out for us to climb up with our metal lunch boxes and eat, sometimes sitting in the tree reading a book until dinner. It was freedom, and making our own fun out of days that stretched out like those Kansas fields.
We often took walks out in the field behind our house, westward, heading out to a line of cedar trees on the horizon. It was on these walks that we would crunch through the alfalfa. We would make a game out of it to see who could make the most noise as we walked. If you have ever smelled the scent of alfalfa, it has a sweet, spicy, pungent odor, that smells like puffy, flat-bottomed clouds in a blue, Kansas sky.
So I picked a handful and crushed the leaves in my fist, wondering if I would recognize the scent of my childhood . It hit me like a wave - a visceral sensation of images, feelings, and home- circa 1978- that came rushing back in an instant as I stood there with my dogs, breathing in a handful of alfalfa, 40-some years later.
I pocketed it and made my husband and daughter smell what I told them was a fistful of my childhood.
So today, an ode to alfalfa and our unique memories that lay in hearts, silent until awoken and presented as a gift to our spirit. May each of us use this time to remember who we are, where we come from, and what our hearts truly love, and in doing that, become a better version of ourselves. A more grounded, kinder, forgiving people, who find the confidence and hope to look forward to a better world tomorrow.
For Auld Lang Syne- for the old times.
It's the first day of a new decade today, and tomorrow, I will begin my 49th trip around the sun. This has been a year of reflection growth, and renewed understanding of my own, and my fellow traveler's, plights. I feel more creative and connected to myself and others in spite of what can be challenging or uncertain circumstances at times.
My painting at the moment seems to be vacillating between restraint and wildness, letting loose, then tightening things up. Subtlety and power. Although those may seem contradictory, power can indeed stem from subtlety and restraint. Some of the most beautiful and powerful things in the world are not the ones shouting out for attention, but are found in the quiet corners of life each day. Making time for stillness, reflection and friendships. Learning to be fully present and not reactionary can transform a moment in time you never get back. That is powerful and beautiful stuff.
As I grow older, I learn that each circumstance that comes my way -good or bad- also comes with a lesson to learn. And inside that lesson God gives a nugget of wisdom to help us become who we were created to be. A better version; one that is lighter, loving, more resilient, and forgiving, of ourselves and those around us.
The challenge, then, is to become receptive to the wisdom available to us. To resist the urge to contract and close up in the face of difficulty, instead opening up to allow God's beauty, grace and love to consume us. In every situation, the good, the bad and the ugly, there is a constant, and that constant is love. And in love, there is healing, truth and a light to guide our way.
This is a strange and mysterious journey we are all on. Some of it breathtakingly beautiful and some of it gut wrenchingly difficult. But our burdens are eased and we are fortified to keep going through it all by friends and family and those whose paths we cross.
So to begin the year, we say goodbye to the old and look forward to the new year and new self emerging just in the rightness of time- together.
And some age old wisdom seems appropriate-
" And there's a hand my trusty friend!
And give me a hand o'thine!
And we'll take a right good-will draught
for auld lang syne"
**To browse my art gallery click- https://www.ggwatercolors.com/art-gallery.html
Out of every 100 paintings I do, I think I am truly happy with maybe two. And by that, I mean I look at it and see that what was inside of me when I was painting, manifested itself through pigment and water onto the paper. It's a good feeling when that serendipity happens, and I would like it to show up more than two percent of the time! This painting is a culmination of studies of clotheslines that I've done over the years .
Why clotheslines? I love everything about them visually because they encompass all that I want to experiment with in watercolor.: Light, shadow, luminosity, shape, form, and preserving the white of the paper. My challenge has been to paint the clothesline and fabrics, with all of their folds, textures, and shadow detail, while simultaneously maintaining the freedom and playfulness of the abstract. When it comes down to it, that's what I strive to do in all of my paintings, enabling me to get to the essence and power of the subject.
The power in this painting is that it resonates emotionally with so many people on various levels. As soon as I posted it, people began talking about their memories of being with mom or grandma out in the backyard hanging laundry on the line, or the fresh smell of cotton sheets after being dried in the sun all day. An old clothesline blowing in the wind seems to bring back universal childhood memories of a slower time when bright summer days stretched out like long shadows into evening.
This is the first painting in a series dealing with preserving whites and light, maintaining luminosity and playing loosely. I'm hoping to push past some tightness and deal with the painting as a whole, living entity. Learning as I go.
Change in the air
I went for a walk today with the dogs and the air was fairly bursting with excitement as the cold weather descends from the north. All of nature was collaborating, singing, joyous. As we walked down the road the earthy scent of rain and snow was picked up and carried in the gusts of wind beginning to swirl around us. The birds were excitedly chattering in the treetops, preparing for what they know intuitively is coming. Leaves came drifting down like they were dancing, the trees that still have leaves left cast a golden glow on everything in their reach. Pure, palpable beauty.
"Hygge" is a Danish and Norwegian concept that is a sort of acceptance and love of the long, cold dark days of winter and all that it brings. Candles are lit, throws and pillows abound, books and hot drinks become plentiful. Outdoor activity doesn't stop, it changes. Skiing, skating, playing in the snow, and brisk walks are anticipated and enjoyed, as are the warmth of coming inside to a bright, roaring fire.
It's all in how you think about it
I recently read an article and I can't remember where I read it, but there were studies conducted in Norway, which has one of the highest rates of happiness, and the shortest days and longest winters, of most places on the planet. The researchers posed the question "How do you keep yourself in a good mood in the winter?" Very quickly they found that to be the wrong question as the answers came back. "Why wouldn't I be in a good mood?"
What researchers found was that the people in the study had a different concept of winter, cold, and darkness. They weren't fighting it, they embraced it, and loved it for what it was- Cold weather activities, indoor conversations, reading, the warmth of the fire, soup and warm drinks- of course they were happy, why wouldn't they be?
I think there are many profound lessons in that, maybe to expound on another day. For today, I'm simply going to embrace the beauty that is winter and send some little snowy paintings out into to the world.
To see and/or purchase these paintings and more, click here here-
I have hundreds of photos taken over the years, many of them scenes of my home state, Kansas, where old, rusting grain elevators loom as light houses on the ancient sea bed.
I have traveled so many miles in the inky night that is the plains of Kansas, Oklahoma and Colorado, and it is always a relief to see a distant grain elevator breaking up the darkness, knowing other human beings are close. The darkness can trick you into thinking you are all alone in it's vastness.
I have also been in darkness in my spirit, looking for a beacon of hope, praying that God hears my prayers, not knowing for sure.
He does hear us, and he does love us. He loves you and cares for you more than you could ever know.
I'm talking to you . You are not alone.
I know you are going through darkness and it seems never ending. You are looking for help, trying to find a light as you go about your days, not letting anyone know the depths of your despair and pain that has you in it's grip.
You have been looking and asking for a long time and it seems like no one hears your cries for help.
Don't give up.
I heard this song this morning and thought of you.
You are not hidden
There’s never been a moment you are forgotten
You are not hopeless
But you have been broken, your innocence stolen
I hear you whisper underneath your breath
I hear your SOS,
I will send out an army
To find you in the middle of the darkest night
it’s true, I will rescue you
There is no distance that cannot be covered
You’re not defenseless
I’ll be your shelter, I’ll be your armor
I will never stop marching
to reach you in the middle of the hardest fight
it’s true, I will rescue you
I hear you whisper underneath your breath
I hear you whisper, you have nothing left
I will send out an army
To find you in the middle of the darkest night,
it’s true, I will rescue you
I will never stop marching
To reach you in the middle of the hardest fight,
it’s true, I will rescue you
Oh, I will rescue you
"The heart of vision is shaped by the state of the soul"- John O'Donohue
What do you see each day when you wake? When you go about the business of your day - a normal, fast-forward, pre-planned day where there is nothing for you to think about except how busy you are and how quickly you check off the day's obligations, what do you see? Rushing to work with leftover salads, paying bills, schlepping kids to practice, making dinner, and looking after everyone. We may even be so good at this circus to squeeze in time for ourselves, meditating and yoga and all the self-care. We know the right things to say, the image to put out, the correct parenting techniques. We are doing this right! We are "balanced"! We scream as we begin another harried day with our friend the anti-depressant.
But what are we seeing- or rather, what are we missing- as we go about the busy and stressed lives we are addicted to?
Do we examine our life closely- the one speeding by, and the beautiful world it's happening in? Or are we mindlessly observing, as some preoccupied passenger staring out of a window on a train? Noting colors, vague shapes, and blurred outlines, but seeing nothing clearly as we travel along in some alternate realm of busied hypnosis.
As we record our pretty meals, our trips, new toys, and date nights on our phones we show the world that we are active and blessed and living abundantly! The child winning the award, the glass of wine with a sunset. Look at all we do and all that we have- Aren't these things validation enough of our sighted eyes!
What if what we see is truly predicated on how we see? What if we have forgotten how to see the world going by because we have become so entranced by the motion of the train?
Days pile up, and the sun doesn't halt it's course to wait for us. Our 21st century eyes are fixed and focused on screens, and whatever is loudest, biggest, best. Not the subtleties, not the quiet beauty that reveals itself only through deliberate, childlike eyes. Not the patterns of clouds and light that are gifted to us each day, not the sadness in our neighbor's eye or our own child's need for a break from their frantically scheduled childhood.
After all, who has time to slow down this train and look intimately at what is being revealed right before our eyes?
Look closely to see the beauty meant for your life each day.
Maybe we will decide that it is essential to adjust the lens through which we see our one life. Each of us is an artist. The mediums are the difference. Maybe your art is helping people, creative financing, business, teaching, motherhood. It doesn't matter, it all requires the ability to pay close attention and look intimately and creatively at our world and it's inhabitants. Can we re-learn how to open our eyes and see beauty and meaning in everything and everyone around us? Do we have the insight to acknowledge that what we are bypassing is God's presence in our lives by being too busy to recognize it? Because then, and only then, will we see the beauty meant for our journey revealed in all it's wonder.
I'm making myself a cup of coffee today, but only one. For the past 11 years, on Thursday afternoons, I've been making two cups of coffee for painting lessons with my friend and painting cohort, Sharon, and we would spend the afternoon talking, laughing, and yes, painting. This week, however, my friend is off on her next big adventure- moving to Cape Cod, closer to her sister, to live on a lake and enjoy the good life!
She and I are, in reality, polar opposites. Sharon is methodical, a planner, organized, prioritizes her life and goals, creates rituals and traditions, and just generally has her stuff together in every area. I would not describe myself as any of those things on a consistent basis, but spending time with her made me more mindful of those areas I would like to improve in. I loved the fact that she brought the same tin coffee can for her water for over a decade. Or how she starts every day making her bed , because it's her first accomplishment of the day. She filled me in on her home maintenance projects, travel plans, exercise classes, church meetings, and symphony outings. I love and admire her energy and her commitment to fulfillment and balance in her life.
Sharon and I are different in age, she is from the city and I am not, and as she was working successfully in the corporate world, I was becoming a mother. Although our lives and experiences are not all similar, we are also kindred spirits.
We love talking about anything and everything- writing, books, art and music, spiritual issues, politics, family and struggles. We find the same things funny and have lots of the same perspectives on life. To illustrate just how simpatico we are, when I felt compelled to write a blog about adjusting to changes in life- read it here -Sharon replied that after she read it, she was convinced that it was time for her to "adjust her sails" and go for it! I'm not sure if I'm happy or sad about writing that blog yet, but it was intuitively written and I can't help but think it was meant to be.
Sharon pulled up to my house at 12:30 sharp each week. I could set my clock by it, and over time, seeing her car pull up became a beautiful little gift in the middle of my week. In fact, through all that happened in my life over the past decade, our lesson each week was probably what kept me painting at all. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, Sharon kept showing up. She also brought me meals and gave me wonderful easy recipes. And she kept showing up. Through treatment, through recovery, I could count on seeing her each week, talking about life, painting, and a myriad of other things other than cancer, and at the end, we always looked forward to the next week.
When my mom began declining in memory, I would talk to Sharon about it and she would share about her earlier experiences with her own mother. We talked about subjects I normally would have talked to my mom about. She became a source of objective advice, and a caring confidant. And always, we laughed. Truly, I could, and did, share everything with my friend.
Sharon has had her own share of difficulty, heavy loss and pain in her life.. And what I learned from her over a decade of sharing our lives for a couple of hours each week, is that she is an empowered, courageous, and remarkable woman. She walks her path with faith and looking toward the future, always finding ways to fill herself spiritually, creatively, and intellectually. She shows up, plans her next trip, paints, writes, finds people to connect with, and does her thing!
Over the past decade, we created space to be artists together. And each week, when she left, I would say "See you next week!" and she would reply " Yes you will!" I love all that simple response contained- an optimistic outlook, a promise, hopefulness, and friendship. I am going to miss my dear friend. As I was contemplating my Thursday afternoon void one morning, I realized that Sharon had gifted me this beautiful ritual, one that I would never have stuck to for over a decade if it had not been for her. And now, this time is carved out for my own art, my own creative space. And I will honor her gift every Thursday . 12:30 sharp!
The beauty of authenticity